…that wills are the most amazing source of family history. They can just as easily reveal new names to add to one’s family tree, or reveal a forgotten family secret – like a disinherited relative, an illegitimate child, or a reference to a fabulous fortune left to your ancestors by a generous relation. Wills have been playing an important role in my family history research lately, and it’s all down to a lovely lady called Ann, whose husband is a distant cousin of mine from Australia.
Ann has been into genealogy for years, and a few weeks ago she contacted me after coming across my blog article on my Hammond ancestors – an article which, I’m happy to say, confirmed her own research and helped me back my prior investigations. What I did not expect is for Ann to reveal the true identity of one of our mutual female ancestors, whose maiden name was a total mystery until very recently.
As explained in my previous blog article on the Hammonds, my 9x great-grandmother Eleanor, the wife of Vincent Hammond, had to have been born around the 1650s – her first child being baptised in 1679, her eighth and youngest in 1696. As far as I could tell, Eleanor may also have had family links to the Shropshire village of Atcham, near Shrewsbury, as it was there that her two eldest children had been baptised.
I also speculated that Eleanor’s father may have been called Isaac, since it was the name given to her second-born son – her eldest son’s name, John, was extremely common on her husband’s side of the family. Initially I thought that Eleanor’s father was Isaac Griffiths, purely on the basis that there was a man with that name whose daughter was baptised in the right place at the right time. To my delight, my newly-discovered cousin Ann also told me of her suspicion that Eleanor’s father was called Isaac, but she went a step further and told me that Eleanor’s maiden name could have been Jones, in light of a will she had unearthed some time ago.
The will in question, available for free download via The National Archives website, was drafted in January 1655 (N.S.) by one Richard Hatchett of Peplow, Shropshire, at a time when Eleanor would have been an infant. In the will, the elderly gentleman left his goods and property to several of his closest relatives, specifically mentioning his second daughter Sarah, his youngest daughter Alice, his eldest son Stephen, and his youngest son John. There is an additional daughter whose existence is implied (as she was neither the second nor the youngest), and yet her name is not mentioned. Fortunately, however, Richard Hatchett does mention his granddaughter Eleanor Jones, daughter of his son-in-law Isaac Jones. Could this be the same Isaac whom I suspected of being my Eleanor’s father, and therefore that her unnamed mother was Richard’s missing elder daughter? I felt I was on the brink of adding an extra generation and several new names to the family tree, but I still needed hard proof!
Fast-forward about thirty years. On 16 March 1687 Isaac Jones himself drew up his will. His name is given as “Isaac Jones, of Chilton”, which is in Atcham – the same parish, we must remember, where my Eleanor had given birth to two of her eight children a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the will is not very detailed, although it does provide a list of goods and chattels that Isaac bequeathed to several of his living relatives – including his “loving wife Susanna“. At least I now knew the name of Richard Hatchett’s missing eldest daughter!
The only other relatives mentioned in Isaac’s will are his three grandchildren called William, Eleanor and Martha, the children of his eldest son William. Unfortunately, the will does not mention any of Isaac’s other children (their existence is implied through later wills), despite the fact that he had at least three called Samuel (an Anglican minister), Sarah (Mrs Stokes) and Joseph, a lawyer who later briefly became mayor of Shrewsbury. The fact that none of these children were mentioned in Isaac Jones’s will gave me reason to hope that his daughter Eleanor – my purported ancestor – was also left out because she too was at the time married and had received a settlement upon marrying Vincent Hammond. But how to prove it?
It was not until much more recently, in the course of a Zoom call with my newly found cousin Ann in Australia, that the penny dropped. Ann revealed that she had a copy of the will left in 1715 by Eleanor’s husband Vincent Hammond, and in it he mentions “my dearest wife Eleanor and her brother Joseph Jones“.
Not only did I now have irrefutable proof that Vincent Hammond’s wife was indeed called Eleanor Jones, but I was also able to attach her brothers and sisters, parents and even her paternal grandfather to my family tree with absolute confidence. I did not even have to rely on the fact (which at first I believed to be nothing more than a coincidence) of common names and places, and the pattern of naming children in one family after maternal relatives. It now follows that Eleanor Hammond was born in about 1654, or there abouts, just in time for her to have been mentioned in her maternal grandfather’s will in early 1655. Her marriage settlement (and those of her brothers and sisters once they married in the 1680s, i.e. prior to the death of their father Isaac in 1694) probably meant that Eleanor and her siblings had little to gain from their father’s will. Eleanor survived at least two of her children, as well as her husband by just over six years.
With such a common surname as Jones, I definitely did not expect to be able to trace the line any further, but Isaac is an uncommon enough name to make it stand out even in contemporary records. Isaac Jones must have been born sometime in the early 1600s, possibly before 1623, as that was the year when the so-called Visitation of Shropshire was carried out. The Visitation was put together by two heralds to record the lineages and arms of families of note who lived in Shropshire at the time. Isaac makes a very discreet appearance as the son of William Jones, himself son and heir of one Thomas Jones, of Chilton, who was in fact still alive when the Visitation was drafted. I therefore have good reason to believe that the information in the visitation – at least, the details surrounding Thomas’s immediate family – is reliable.
Isaac’s mother (and William’s wife) was Eleanor, daughter of Richard Cam, of Ludlow – no doubt where her granddaughter, and my direct ancestor got her name from. William himself was the son of Thomas Jones by his wife Maria, daughter of John Gratewood, of Wollerton, in the Shropshire parish of Hodnet. Although the Gratewoods were not included in the Visitation of 1623, their connections leave me in no doubt that they were a family of note. Maria (or Mary) Gratewood and Thomas Jones had married in 1567 in Hodnet, and because “John Gratewood, gent., de Wollerton” died two years later (see Melocki, Hodnet registers), I am pretty sure that he was present at his daughter’s wedding.
John Gratewood would have been born sometime in the early 1500s, and while his marriage record may no longer exist, his wife’s identity can be ascertained through various other sources. The most valuable of them is, without a doubt, the will made in late 1560 by his brother-in-law Rowland Hill, who is noteworthy for many reasons, not least for being a Member of Parliament and the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London! Although a Shropshireman by birth, Rowland Hill became a rising star in the London of the mid-Tudor period, and was well respected during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth. Because he had no surviving issue, his will is peppered with the names of several relations. Among them are Alice Corbet, “the daughter of my sister Jane” and “William Gratewood, her brother”, implying that Alice’s maiden name was Gratewood and that therefore she and her brother William were Rowland’s niece and nephew through his sister Jane.
Unfortunately Rowland Hill’s will does not specifically mention Maria/Mary Gratewood, who a few years later would marry Thomas Jones of Chilton. Nevertheless, her paternity can be positively ascertained through the 1623 Visitation of Shropshire. More to the point, the parish register of Hodnet, where Wollerton is located, mentions the burial in 1553 of one “Juna (sic) Gratewood” – no doubt Maria/Mary’s mother Jane.
Finding a link to an illustrious relative like Rowland Hill has not turned out easy to prove, but I am satisfied that contemporary evidence has allowed me to add him to the old family tree with all the confidence I need. Naturally, given the hundreds of years between Rowland Hill’s death and the present day, he must have thousands of living “nieces” and “nephews” around the world. While I have yet to uncover many of his close kinsfolk, I was rather struck by the fact that he was related by marriage to another famous Mayor of London.
No one else among Rowland Hill’s relations benefited as much from his will than Thomas Leigh, the husband of his niece, Alice Barker (daughter of another of Hill’s sisters, called Elizabeth). Like Rowland, Leigh was so distinguished that he was knighted in 1559 by Elizabeth I, becoming Sir Thomas Leigh. He is not the last Mayor of London to make his appearance on the family tree: Sir Thomas’s son-in-law, George Bond, became Mayor of London in 1587. His daughter Dionise appears to have been married to Henry Winston, and their grandson, Winston Churchill (1620-1688) is the ancestor not only of his namesake, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, but of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Dukes of Marlborough, Prime Minister James Waldegrave, Lady Susan Hussey (who was prominently featured in the news this week), the late comedian Humphrey Lyttelton and the present-day Duke of Alba.
As if that were not enough, another of Sir Thomas Leigh’s grandsons, William Leigh, holds the key to my connection to yet another famous relative. This William Leigh was the great-grandfather of Thomas Leigh, whose daughter Cassandra Leigh was the mother of one of my favourite novelists, the one and only Jane Austen. It is through the Austens that I can also claim a family link to actress Anna Chancellor (“Duckface” in Four Weddings and a Funeral), film producer John Brabourne (the son-in-law of the ill-fated Lord Mountbatten) and Denys Finch-Hatton, whose love affair with Karen Blixen inspired her world-famous novel (and the world-famous movie) Out of Africa.
Phew! I think I’ve overdosed on genealogy research for a while…!
What follows is a report of my research into the Hammond family of Hatton, in the parish of Eaton-under-Heywood (Shropshire), which later settled in Aston Botterell and Church Stretton, as well as Gawsworth (Chesire), Tolland (Somerset) and Charlecote (Warwickshire). The purpose of this article is not that of a classical blog post – to merely inform and entertain my readers – but to dispel some of the rumours and errors which populate a significant number of online Hammond family trees. Any corrections or new discoveries will be added to this article as they surface. Like any genealogist, I cannot pretend that my research is 100% accurate; however, I am confident that the conclusions and sources quoted will be enough to render my findings sufficient accuracy and credibility. If you have any comments or queries, or wish to make any suggestions or corrections, please email me via the address you will find under Contact.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: To quote this article or any information (including images) therein, please use the following reference: SMITH RAMOS, Daniel. “The Hammonds – a Shropshire family saga.” The Genealogy Corner (https://thegenealogycorner.com/). April 32022.
The first Hammonds
I have no reason to believe that all Hammonds in the world (or even in Shropshire, for that matter) are all descended from the same common Hammond ancestor. The family I am descended from – the subject of my research – appear to originate in Hatton, a hamlet of the parish of Eaton-under-Heywood, in Shropshire. There are references to Hammonds in the said parish as early as the 1600s, though the absence of documentation means it is impossible to establish a solid family link between the various individuals they refer to.
A family tree, preserved in Shropshire Archives under the reference Hamond/Gough (Hamond of Hatton; Gough of Oldfallings) Fletcher, W.G.D., 40 suggests a family link between the Hammonds of Hatton and the Goughs of Old Fallings (Staffordshire). A closer investigation into the information contained in this family tree, probably drawn up in the early 1800s, shows that it contains many mistakes and contradictions, which makes it a wholly unreliable source.
The Hammond family line begins with someone whom I will refer to as N.N. Hammond. This is because his name is unknown to me at the time of writing this article (spring 2022). What I do know is that this individual likely had at least four children (one son and three daughters). However, only the Christian names of two of them (John and Jane) are known, while the existence of the other two daughters is inferred through secondary sources. Indeed, in his own will drafted in early 1683, John Hammond explicitly refers to his three sisters as Jane Davies, Mrs Jenkes and “my sister Passie” (probably Passey, her married name). No further clues are offered as to the sisters’ abode, age or marital status at the time, although the will does mention a Thomas Jenkes and a William Passie. Another, more distant relative generically referred to in two sources as a “cousin” of the Hammonds is one German Hammond, who lived in Aston Botterell.
The Hammonds of The Ford, Aston Botterell (Shropshire)
Before delving into the main Hammond line (i.e. John’s), I will take a short detour to explore what little information I have been able to find on the life of the aforementioned German Hammond. I have not been able to locate his baptism record, although chances are he was probably born in Shropshire and that the original document has been lost to history. His date of birth therefore remains a mystery, though a rough calculation of about 1660 is probably a fair estimation considering he married in 1684 and died in 1729.
On 3 May 1684 German Hammond married Mary Low (d.1734) in the market town of Ludlow, a place with many associations with the Hammond family. No further clues are provided in the record as to their abode, their origin or indeed German’s occupation, but the couple lived at The Ford (presumably what is now known as Ford Farm) in the parish of Aston Botterell, near Bridgnorth. German and Mary Hammond may have had several children, but references survive for only two of them: William, who was baptised in Aston Botterell in June 1689, and Richard, who must have been very young when he died and was subsequently buried in the same parish almost exactly a year after his brother’s baptism. German Hammond died in July 1729, when he was probably in his 60s. His only surviving son, William, did not outlive him long, for he was buried on 1 September that same year. This information is consistent with a record dated 1732 [TNA ref. C 11/1786/23], which refers to Mary Hammond and Elizabeth Hammond as the widows of German Hammond and William Hammond, respectively. Both men are also referred to as “yeomen”, which gives us some indication as to their station.
When William Hammond died aged 40 in 1729, he left behind a wife and at least four children: Mary (born 1722), Thomas (1723), Elizabeth (1726) and Anne (1729), who was born a few weeks before her father’s death. William’s heir, Thomas Hammond, is referred to by name in the aforesaid record kept at the National Archives. He may well be the same Thomas Hammond “born in Aston near the market town of Ludlow” who in 1788 retired from the 2nd Troop of Horse Guards, after a service of 22 years serving in turn under Baron Cadogan, Lord Robert Bertie and Jeffery Amherst [TNA ref. WO 121/4/169].
The Hammonds of Hatton, Eaton-under-Heywood (Shropshire)
John Hammond, the son of N.N. Hammond, was born sometime during the first half of the 1600s. The absence of a baptism record means that his age at the time of his death in March 1683 can only be calculated through secondary information. John was married to a woman called Susan (or Susannah), whose maiden name and origins are unknown. Their marriage likely took place in the 1640s, since their third known child was born in approximately 1652. Seven children are known to have been born to the couple, though only the baptisms of the two youngest, Paul and Jane, survive. The other children were Mary, Vincent, John, Bernard and Susan. All but one of the seven are mentioned in their father’s will, dated 19 March 1683 [TNA ref. L6/1234]; it is likely that the missing child, Paul, predeceased his father.
John Hammond’s will is quoted in online sources as being dated 1682 or 1683; the confusion arises from the fact that England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until the mid-18th century, when the start of the year was moved from 25 March (known as Lady Day) to 1 January. In other words, according to contemporaries, John Hammond made his will in 1682 because it is dated 19 March, i.e. only a few days before the end of the calendar year according to the Julian calendar. From our point of view, John was actually living in the third month of 1683, if we applied the Gregorian calendar we use today. At any rate, John himself must have died very soon after making his will, as he was buried three days later on 22 March 1682/1683.
In his will, John is referred to as “John Hammond of Hatton”. This hamlet is located within the boundaries of the Shropshire parish of Eaton-under-Heywood, approximately half way between Ludlow and Shrewsbury. The will makes very interesting reading, for it lists the various relatives to whom John Hammond left his properties and personal assets. Thanks to the will, it is also possible to infer several family relationships besides his children, namely his aforementioned sisters and cousin, as well as a grandson called John Hammond (the son of his eldest son Vincent, born in 1681).
John’s eldest daughter Mary is referred to in her father’s will as Mary Palmer, implying that she had married by then. This is consistent with the marriage entry, dated 28 April 1672 in Eaton-under-Heywood, which shows Mary Hammond of Hatton marrying William Palmer, of Ticklerton – Ticklerton being another hamlet within the same parish. I have found no evidence to suggest that William and Mary Palmer had any children of their own; in fact, Mary seems to have died shortly after her own father (she would have been most probably in her early to mid-30s). Because she was already married, and had therefore likely received a dowry upon marrying William Palmer, Mary was only endowed in her father’s will with £10 (roughly equating to £1,150 in 2017 values), while her younger sisters received significantly larger amounts.
On 19 June 1685 Mary’s widower William Palmer married her younger sister Susan Hammond, who had been bequeathed by her father a little under £34,000 in today’s money. Although the wedding took place in Bridgnorth, all six of their children (Elizabeth, Susannah, William, Thomas, Mary and John) would be baptised in Eaton-under-Heywood between 1686 and 1695. Of the six, only Susannah and John are mentioned by name in their uncle Bernard’s will of 1704 – although this is not necessarily indicative that the other brothers and sisters had passed away by then. Indeed, in early 1721 one of the middle sons, Thomas Palmer, married Lucretia Hibbins, the daughter of the late reverend Henry Hibbins, of Stokesay, Shropshire. The Hammonds’ links to members of the Anglican clergy would, as we will soon see, become a common trend throughout subsequent generations.
William Palmer, of Ticklerton, died in 1705 and was buried on 22 May in Eaton-under-Heywood, where he had been church warden for a number of years. His widow Susan outlived him by almost 25 years, dying on 16 January 1730/1731 in Ludlow. Incidentally, the parish register for Eaton-under-Heywood mentions a marriage between a “Mrs Susannah Palmer” to the Rev. John Taylor in 1720, but she should not be confused with the aforementioned Susan Hammond who had married William Palmer 35 years before. In fact, John Taylor’s wife was Susan Palmer (née Hammond)’s daughter – the term Mrs being at the time used as a sign of deference for women of rank, rather than to exclusively denote married women. The confusion between mother and daughter arising from their names, which is admittedly a mistake very easily made, can be dismissed straight away considering that John and Susannah Taylor’s five children were all born between late 1720 and 1730, by which time Susan Hammond (later Palmer) would have been in her late 60s.
Now we have covered the lives of John Hammond’s two eldest daughters, let us focus on his third and youngest daughter, Jane, before turning out attention to John’s three surviving sons and their descendants. Jane Hammond was baptised on 13 December 1664. Like her elder siblings, she is mentioned as one of the beneficiaries in her father’s will in 1683. In the said document, she was to receive £260 (just under £30,000 in modern values) upon her father’s death, with an additional income of £10 per annum over the next three years, payable by her brothers Vincent and Bernard from the benefits arising from their respective livings. It would be another four years before Jane herself became a married woman, for on 29 April 1687, in the parish of Much Wenlock, she married Timothy Gravenor (sometimes spelt Grovenor or Grosvenor). Timothy is described in several sources as a “gentleman” and “of Whitbach and Upper Hayton”, near Stanton Lacy, just north of Ludlow. The couple appear to have had at least two children: Elizabeth, who died young and was buried in Cleobury North in early January 1693; and John, who was born in April 1692 and is mentioned in his uncle Bernard Hammond’s will twelve years later.
Timothy and Jane Gravenor lived in Cleobury North for a brief period in the early years of their marriage. It was in that location that Jane’s widowed mother, Susan, passed away in 1699, and it was also there where Jane’s brother Bernard drafted his will five years later.
Timothy Gravenor died in Stanton Lacy in 1734, while his widow passed away in April 1743, having outlived all of her siblings. The couple’s only known son, John Gravenor, is referred to in a 1717 document [TNA ref. 1037/21/87] as the couple’s heir and a gentleman “of Womaston”. By that time, John had been married for some years to a woman called Teverea, who ultimately died in 1749 and was buried in the cloister of St Mary’s Cathedral in Worcester. The couple had at least one son called Thomas who was baptised in Cleobury North in 1715, but little else is known about him. John Gravenor may be the same John Grosvenor (sic) who was buried in Stanton Lacy in 1760.
Let us now turn our attention to John Hammond’s three surviving sons: Vincent, John and Bernard. Although baptism records for the period are incomplete or have not survived, their birth order can be deduced thanks to a number of sources and supporting evidence. Vincent was unquestionably his parents’ eldest son (if not their eldest child), as he is described as “my eldest brother Vincent” in Bernard’s will in 1704. As the first-born son and heir to his father’s property in Hatton, Vincent was also the first to marry and sire children (he became a father by 1679).
On the other hand, John was almost certainly the second son. He was admitted “as a poor scholar” to Christ Church College, Oxford on 26 February 1668/1669 at the age of 16 – thus placing his year of birth at around 1652-1653. Additionally, The Manor of Gawsworth, by Raymond Richards, features a short summary of John Hammond’s career, and states that he died in April 1724 when he was in his 73rd year – which is also consistent with a probable birth year of 1652 (and not 1662, as many online sources suggest). This middle brother would not marry until his later 30s, after taking up the position of rector of Gawsworth, in Cheshire, as we shall see presently.
Bernard (who married in 1681) was therefore the youngest of the three brothers, having been born in around 1653 – if a later notation of his burial in 1723, when he was supposedly 70 years old, is to be given any credence. This is also consistent with the will left by the elder John Hammond in 1683, which specifically mentions his four youngest children in what we may suppose is their order of birth: “John, Bernard, Susan and Jane”. We may also consider the fact that, in the same will, John Hammond of Hatton bequeathed varying amounts of money to all his younger children, while his first-born son Vincent was granted the family property in Hatton. In view of this evidence, we may suppose that Vincent was very probably born in the late 1740s, followed by John in about 1651/1652 and Bernard around1652/1653.
Let us focus on the eldest son: Vincent Hammond, the eldest of his parents’ sons, inherited the Hatton properties bequeathed to him by his father in his will. He seems to have resided in Hatton most of his life, except for a brief period in the early years of his marriage, but besides that, I know very little about this ancestor of mine – he is my 9x-great-grandfather. By 1679 he had married a woman called Eleanor, whose maiden name and family origins are unknown. However, I suspect that she was probably not a native of Eaton-under-Heywood, because her and Vincent’s two eldest children were born in Atcham, near Shrewsbury – suggesting the couple resided there during the first few years of their marriage. The name of Vincent and Eleanor’s second-born son, Isaac, could be a clue as to her original identity, for in 1654 a girl born to Isaac and Christian (sic) Griffies – or Griffiths – was baptised at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury. The fact that Isaac is not a name used by earlier generations of Hammonds, one may suppose, could mean that it was introduced into the Hammond family by Eleanor herself, wishing to honour the memory of her father by naming her second-born son after his maternal grandfather. After all, her eldest son John was christened in honour of his paternal grandfather, John Hammond of Hatton. If Eleanor Hammond was indeed the same person as Eleanor Griffies, then it follows that she and her husband lived near Shrewsbury in the early years of their marriage – and it is also consistent with Eleanor’s child-bearing years stretching as late as 1696, when she would have been about 42 and when Eleanor actually gave birth to her eighth and last child.
The couple’s first daughter, Susanna, was born in Atcham in 1679, but sadly died there in May 1682 aged two and a half. Their next child, John, was also born in Atcham, but unlike his elder sister, he reached adulthood. He is also mentioned in his paternal grandfather’s will in 1683, when he would have been about two years old. Vincent and Eleanor moved to Eaton-under-Heywood in around 1683 – no doubt in order to take possession of the family property of Hatton following old John Hammond’s demise. By later that September, Eleanor gave birth to her second son, Isaac (died 1685), who was to be followed by Bernard (1686), Eleanor (1687), Katherine (1690), Samuel (1694) and Vincent (1696).
Vincent Hammond of Hatton died in October 1718, when we would have been in his late 60s, and was buried in Eaton-under-Heywood, where his father’s remains had also been laid to rest. His wife Eleanor outlived him by eight years, dying in 1726, probably in her 71st year. Of their six surviving children, only three sons are known to have married: in 1703 John married Mary Hammond (a possible relation) and had six children; Bernard was married in 1710 to Rebecca Minton, one of the heiresses of Richard Minton of Minton, and had ten children; and Vincent, who married Mary Kyte in 1725, but probably remained childless. Eleanor, the eldest-surviving daughter, very probably became the wife of Samuel Pountney in 1709, by whom she had at least three sons.
Vincent’s brother Bernard Hammond – the third and youngest of John and Susan Hammond’s three surviving sons – was probably born in about 1653, as explained above. In 1681 – according to Alan Dakers’ book Ticklerton Tales, which is partially reproduced online – Bernard Hammond, of Ludlow, purchased a mesuage in Hatton from Richard Wredenhall, of Downton; the property had previously belonged to William Acton, of Henley, whose wife Jane had been the daughter of one Richard Hammond, of Hatton – a probable kinsman of Bernard’s. That same year, Bernard married Mary Cheffe, by whom he had five children named Elizabeth, Susanna, Anne, Richard and Mary, though only the eldest daughter seems to have lived to adulthood. Bernard and his wife Mary spent the first four years of their married life in Ludlow prior to settling in Eaton-under-Heywood. After becoming widowed, Bernard lived for some time in Cleobury North, prior to moving to Burwarton, where his eldest daughter lived after her own marriage. In 1705 he acted as executor of the will left by his late brother-in-law William Palmer, and is described as residing in Ticklerton at the time.
In 1697 Bernard suffered two great personal losses when his wife and youngest daughter Mary died within days of each other, possibly as the result of an infectious disease. With his other children already dead, this tragedy left only Bernard and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, as the sole survivors within their immediate family unit. Five years later Elizabeth married Thomas Holland, of Ludlow, on the occasion of which she very likely received a substantial dowry from her father. This is inferred by his will, drafted the following year, in which Bernard only left his remaining daughter and her husband £5 each, while his remaining financial assets (worth over £128,000 in today’s values) were divided between his other relations. Those who benefitted the most from Bernard’s will were without a doubt the three sons of his elder brother John, who is already referred to in the document as rector of Gawsworth, Cheshire: John’s eldest son, also called John, was to receive £300 (worth approximately £32,000 today); Davenport Hammond was to receive £200, the same as his next brother George, while their remaining sister Susanna only got £100. Bernard Hammond also granted legacies to various other relatives: his nephew John Palmer, of Ticklerton (son of his sister Susan) received £50, as did his cousin John Gravenor, the son of Bernard’s sister Jane. On the other hand, his other nephew and namesake, Bernard Hammond (his brother Vincent’s second son) received £100 – which might suggest that he was the younger Bernard’s godfather.
While Bernard’s exact date of death is not recorded, a handwritten (and definitely non-contemporary) note on the Burwarton parish register records Bernard dying in 1723 aged 70 – thus making 1653 the likeliest year of his birth. This information, however, contradicts the fact that on Burwarton parish church there is a memorial to Thomas Holland, his wife Elizabeth and his father-in-law Bernard Hammond, on which it states that he died in 1724. Whatever the case may be, what is certain is that Bernard had passed away by February 1725, when his will was proved at Ludlow by his grandson William Holland (Elizabeth herself having predeceased her father in 1721).
As Bernard Hammond’s most senior living descendant, William Holland thus became the head of the family before he even attained his legal majority. Not long after turning 21, he married Anne Lea, of Little Hereford, by whom he had two sons and four daughters, though only one of the girls is thought to have married and had issue. The daughter in question, named Elizabeth in memory of her grandmother, contracted a somewhat late marriage in 1772 to Benjamin Baugh, gentleman, of Ludlow, by whom she had one known daughter called Harriet (1778-1854). In 1796 Harriet herself made an advantageous marriage by becoming the wife of the Hon. Gustavus Hamilton (later 6th Viscount Boyne), a scion of the Dukes of Abercorn and a direct descendant of the famous Gustavus Hamilton who fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 against the forces of the deposed James II – for which he was later ennobled by George I. The 11th and current Viscount Boyne is therefore a direct descendant of Bernard Hammond through his daughter Elizabeth Holland, and my 10th cousin (once removed).
The Hammonds of Gawsworth (Cheshire), Tolland (Somerset) and Charlecote (Warwickshire)
But perhaps the most glittering of all marriages was that contracted between John Hammond’s middle son, John, to a member of the one of the oldest and most well-established families in England. Born in 1651 or 1652, being a younger son John Hammond‘s prospects of ever inheriting much of the family’s property in Shropshire were never very great. Knowing the financial limitations he would have faced, his parents decided at an early age to destine him for a career in the church. At the age of 16 he matriculated “as a poor scholar” at Christ Church College, Oxford, receiving his B.A. in December 1672 and his M.A. in July 1675. In 1683 he was appointed rector of the parish of Gawsworth, in Cheshire, where he would remain as the incumbent for the next 41 years. The move to Cheshire was to prove a fortuitous decision, for it was there that he probably became an acquaintance of Alice Lucy, daughter of the late Sir Fulke Lucy, of Henbury, MP. The Lucys had been a prominent in the West Midlands for many generations; Sir Fulke’s great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Lucy, is notorious for having been in conflict with – and allegedly prosecuting – William Shakespeare. Sir Fulke’s father, another Sir Thomas, was a politician who sat in the House of Commons on several occasions between 1614 and 1640. Upon his death that year, his son Fulke inherited Charlecote Park, in Warwickshire – which is today owned by the National Trust and is still recognised as one of the greatest country houses in England (albeit much altered since Sir Fulke’s day).
John Hammond, rector of Gawsworth, thus became acquainted with the family of Sir Fulke Lucy, and on 16 April 1689 married his eldest daughter, Alice Lucy. As she had four living brothers, little could John Hammond suspect at the time that almost a century later his own grandson would be called upon to inherit the Charlecote estate.
John and Alice Hammond were soon blessed with the arrival of a son, whom they named John. The record of his baptism has not surfaced, but based on the evidence of his uncle Bernard’s will, and given that his younger brother was born in May 1691, there can be little doubt that John must have been born sometime in late 1689 or more probably in the first half of 1690. John’s birth was followed by those of Davenport (1691), George (1694), Henry (who died within days of his birth in 1694) and Susannah, who was born in October 1697. Some sources cite an additional daughter called Isabella, who later married Jeffrey Power in 1718 in Gawsworth, but there is no contemporary evidence to prove that Isabella was indeed John and Alice Hammond’s daughter.
The rapid succession of births probably took its toll on Alice Hammond, who did not survive her fifth confinement and was buried two days after the baptism of her daughter Susannah.
Many online sources and family trees incorrectly state that Rev. John Hammond fathered additional children from a supposed second marriage to a Rebekah Bayly, of Macclesfield. While a marriage between Rebekah Bayly and John Hammond did indeed occur in Gawsworth in 1701, the groom was definitely not the same man as the local rector. There are several reasons for this deduction: firstly, the John Hammond who married in 1701 is not referred to in the marriage register as being the “rector” (unlike all other previous instances in which his name is mentioned in the parish books); instead, his occupation is – crucially – given as a butcher (see caption below). Secondly, there are no supporting documents (e.g. wills, memorials, etc.) which refer to Rev. John Hammond ever having taken a second wife. Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, the various entries of baptism for John and Rebekah’s children throughout the next decade after their marriage all state that their father was a butcher. This is consistent with the baptisms I have been able to find so far for Joseph (1703), John (1704), Elizabeth (1707), Sarah (1707) and Edward (1709). In short, Alice Hammond, John Hammond’s first – and only – wife, died in 1697 leaving him to care for their four surviving children, namely John, Davenport (who married Mary Coldcraft in Westminster in 1724, and died childless in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1754), George (who became rector of Hampton Lucy and married Alice Underhill in 1724, having by her two short-lived sons) and Susannah (who married Jeremiah Henderson, of Kinderton, before dying a widow in Middlewich, Cheshire in 1775; none of her three children left any descendants).
John Hammond, rector of Gawsworth, died in April 1724 and was buried on the 15th that same month. His eldest son, another John Hammond, also became a clergyman and was by then rector of the parish of Tolland, in Somerset. His marriage in 1717 to Sarah Morley produced seven children: Susanna (born in Minehead in around 1718); Sarah (who died unmarried aged 23), a son called Lucy (born in Hasle), Alice (who died unmarried in 1790 aged 66), Elizabeth (died of smallpox in 1730 aged 5), George (died that same year and of the same disease, aged 3) and John, whose life we shall explore subsequently.
John Hammond, rector of Tolland, died in the said Somerset parish in April 1757 when he was in his 67th year. He was survived by his wife and at least two of his children. His only surviving son, John Hammond, was also destined for an ecclesiastical career. He may well have remained an insignificant footnote in history, were it not for the death in 1786 of 71-year-old bachelor George Lucy, his first cousin once removed. George Lucy, who was a nephew of Alice Lucy, John’s paternal grandmother, had himself unexpectedly come into his family’s inheritance (including the Charlecote estate) after the death of his own uncle William Lucy (his father Fulke having been disinherited for being a drunkard and a gambler, and his elder brother being barred from the succession for being an “epileptic”). But George Lucy himself vowed never to marry, preferring to keep mistresses and enjoy the pleasures that life could afford him. On his death, the main Lucy line became extinct and, lacking close relations, he bequeathed his properties to John Hammond, the grandson of his paternal aunt, but on the condition that he use the Lucy surname from then on. Thus, in 1787 Rev. John Hammond became Rev. John Lucy, and took up residence in Charlecote.
His new situation now meant he must seek a wife to perpetuate the Hammond/Lucy lineage, and so, in 1788, 55-year-old John Lucy married Maria Lane, who was half his age. The couple had three sons, the youngest of whom died young. The middle son, John, followed his father’s steps and became a vicar, while the elder son, George Hammond Lucy, inherited Charlecote on his father’s death in 1823.
George Hammond Lucy’s marriage to Mary Elizabeth Williams, of Bodlewyddan, Denbighshire, is well documented in her memoir Mistress Of Charlecote, which was later published by the wife of one of her descendants. Charlecote itself underwent significant alterations during the 19th century, but none of the improvements helped the Hammond/Lucy family from financial ruin. The male line of the Hammond/Lucy family descended from Rev. John Hammond of Gawsworth became extinct in 1909, after ownership of Charlecote had passed to George Hammond Lucy’s granddaughter Ada. Her son, Sir Montgomerie Fairfax-Lucy, who inherited the residual estate in 1943, presented Charlecote to the National Trust in-lieu of death duties in 1946.
FindMyPast, Ancestry and Melocki.org.uk
The National Archives
National Portrait Gallery
Mistress of Charlecote, a memoir by Mary Elizabeth Lucy
Back in the day when I first researched my Italian-American grandfather’s life and origins, I remember partially uncovering the personal story of his paternal grandfather, my Italian great-great-grandfather Vincenzo Ameglio. Vincenzo – as far as the family knew – was an agricultural labourer born in the north of Italy around the mid-19th century. He was also a very absent father, since – according to family lore – he had abandoned his wife Margherita and their only child, my great-grandfather Giacomo, because he found Margherita to be “very difficult to live with”. Consequently, it was the jilted wife Margherita who raised her son single-handedly. In time, the general perception within the family was that her difficult character was an excusable trait, given the abandonment and neglect she would have faced. In short, it was her runaway husband Vincenzo who was vilified by the family for over a century.
Until a few months ago, no one knew what became of Vincenzo. According to his granddaughter, the family always believed he had moved away, possibly to Genoa, and he was not heard from since. He already appears to have been absent by the time his wife Margherita gave birth to their son in late 1886, leading me to wonder whether Vincenzo ever clapped eyes on his own son.
Searching for a death certificate in a country like Italy, without knowing where to look – particularly in a large city such as Genoa – would have been akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. Therefore, rather than embarking on a quixotic research campaign without much hope for success, I decided to go back to square one and focus on the very place where Vincenzo had been born. The staff at the civil registry of Nizza Monferrato, his hometown, were extremely kind and trawled through index after index for any reference to Vincenzo’s death. Bear in mind that, in Italy, when someone dies, the death is registered under the registry’s main section in the town where the death took place (Parte I); but if the person happened to be from a different town, then their death would also have been communicated to their hometown’s civil registry office, which would in turn register a transcript of the original certificate on the section known as Parte II. It was therefore quite probable that, even if Vincenzo had died in Genoa – or elsewhere – his death would have still been registered in either section of Nizza Monferrato’s civil registry. What I did not expect to find out was that he actually died in Nizza Monferrato itself!
Now that I knew Vincenzo had lived out his last years in the town neighbouring that where his estranged wife and son lived, I began to wonder if he was indeed the absent father I always imagined him to be. At least the chances of Vincenzo and Giacomo meeting – even if rarely – now seemed definitely higher.
Vincenzo’s death certificate states that he died in 1917 at the age of 58. Margherita is still mentioned as his wife, though of course the couple had not cohabited for many years. There are no further clues as to the latter part of Vincenzo’s life, but two names leapt off the page instantly when I first saw the record: they refer to the people who went to register the death. On the one hand, 33-year-old Giuseppina Ameglio (same surname as Vincenzo’s) and 33-year-old Francesco Berta, whose link to Vincenzo seemed a total mystery.
Who was Giuseppina Ameglio, and why had she been tasked with registering my great-great-grandfather’s death in 1917? Her age meant that she was probably born in 1884, making her too old to have been born from the same union as my great-grandfather Giacomo (remember that Vincenzo and Margherita were married in 1886, and he abandoned her and their unborn son a few months later). I suspected she was some sort of close relation – possibly Vincenzo’s niece – and that she may have been among the relatives that Vincenzo went to live with when he left his wife years earlier.
In order to find out who this Giuseppina Ameglio was, I requested a copy of her birth record from the civil registry in Nizza Monferrato. Imagine my surprise when I received the certificate stating that Giuseppina was the daughter of none other than Vincenzo himself! Her mother, as would I suspected, was not my great-great-grandmother Margherita, but someone called Teresa Chiorra. So it turns out that Vincenzo had actually been married once before his wedding to the woman he would later abandon!
A few more requests addressed to the civil registry office helped me to fill in the remaining gaps: Vincenzo and his first wife Teresa were married in early 1884; before the year was out, Teresa had given birth to the couple’s daughter Giuseppina. Sadly, Teresa died less than two weeks later – one can only assume, as a consequence of childbirth. Vincenzo was therefore left a widower, emotionally bereaved, still young at 27 and now with a baby to look after. It should not be surprising, therefore, that just over a year later he decided to remarry.
Here is where things become hazy. Based on family lore, and in view of later events, I can only imagine that Margherita’s “difficult character” extended not only towards her husband, but also towards her step-daughter. I have no reason to believe that she was in any way cruel or unkind towards little Giuseppina, but the fact that the marriage apparently broke down fairly rapidly after his second wedding, and that Vincenzo appears to have moved away in a hurry – taking his little daughter with him – could be indicative that there was some degree of coldness between Margherita and Giuseppina too. We will probably never know.
It soon became clear to me that Vincenzo, far from being the villain of the story, simply may have been the victim of a series of tragic losses and emotional miscalculations. First his first wife died unexpectedly, then his second marriage soured very quickly… I can sympathise to a certain extent with him in that he wanted to move away, even if it cost him his relationship with his unborn son Giacomo.
While Giacomo was being raised single-handedly by his mother Margherita, Vincenzo and his daughter Giuseppina’s lives seem to have moved on too. Vincenzo lived to see Giuseppina’s 1909 wedding to Francesco Berta – that’s the other person mentioned on Vincenzo’s death certificate a few years later. Interestingly, Giuseppina’s half-brother Giacomo is not among the witnesses who attended her wedding – which may be indicative that the two never had much in a way of a brother-sister relationship. Who knows if they ever met at all! What we do know is that in 1917 Vincenzo died in the presence of his beloved daughter Giuseppina. She outlived her father for twenty-two years, dying in Nizza Monferrato a few weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War.
Interestingly, Giuseppina’s death certificate provides the names of the two people who recorded her death: Giacomo Berta and Vincenzo Berta, who were 29 and 27 at the time. As you may know, in Italy it is traditional that children take their grandparents’ names, and usually the first-born son is named after the paternal grandfather, while the second is usually named after the maternal grandfather. This seemed like a good indication that Francesco Berta and Giuseppina Ameglio had at least two sons, and that they were named after their parents’ respective fathers. Sure enough, the couple had three sons: Giacomo (b.1910), Vincenzo (b.1912) and Ernesto Berta (b.1917). But wait! There’s more!
The fact that I knew that Giuseppina’s husband predeceased his wife, but was still alive in 1917 when his father-in-law died (and when his third son was born), I decided to check the online database of Italian soldiers who died as a result of the First World War. The chances of Francesco Berta being on it were slim, but Italy’s casualties during the war were extremely high and, at 33, Francesco would have still been young enough to be sent to the front. My suspicions were sadly confirmed when I found his name listed among the war dead: he did not die at the front, however, but in his hometown Mombaruzzo. His death, which occurred in April 1918, was due to “illness”, likely contracted as a direct consequence of the war. So, poor Giuseppina not only lost her beloved father in 1917, but she was also left a widow a year later – and with three young mouths to feed too!
Alas, that would not the end of the family’s link to the Italian army. Another chance search for this new branch of relatives on the Italian Ministry of Defence’s database of soldiers fallen in World War II brought up a rather unexpected match: Vincenzo Berta, Giuseppina’s middle son and the one named in memory of her beloved father, died (or disappeared) in the Soviet Union in April 1943 at the age of 30. Whether he was died in combat, died as a prisoner of war or simply went missing, I do not yet know. This discovery has prompted me to learn more about Fascist Italy’s disastrous campaign in Russia, as an ally of Nazi Germany. I have also sent for Vincenzo’s military records from the State Archive in Alessandria (Italy), which I hope will provide further details about his life and sad demise.
Who knew a chance request for my great-great-grandfather’s death certificate would bring up a new branch of the family tree, and provide me with so many new details about my family history!
On 6 January 2022 I was one of many happy genealogists who logged into FindMyPast to start digging into the newly-released 1921 census. Although I do not have many ancestors who were alive at the time the census was taken on 19 June 1921, I was happy to try my luck and see if I could locate any other close relatives and see what they were up to that momentous day. Among them was my great-great-grandfather’s only surviving brother, Richard Morris.
Up to now, all I ever knew about Richard was that he was born in 1860 in the Herefordshire village of Kinnersley. Throughout the various censuses taken over the years right up to 1911, he appears to have lived his life as a bachelor, spending some of those years looking after his widowed mother. It was not until a few years ago ,when I ordered his death certificate (dated 1931), that I discovered he had married in 1912!
His wife’s name was Jane Birch, and it was her daughter, G. Annie Birch – presumably born from a previous marriage – who went to register Richard’s death in the local registry office. For a long time, this was the family scenario I believed Richard knew in his last years… until the 1921 census was released!
There, black on white, was Richard’s entry in the census, together with Jane, his wife of just under ten years, her daughter Gertrude Annie Birch… and their son Samuel, who was 6 years old at the time! Well, well, well. You think you know someone, don’t you, and then they turn up having kids right up under your nose!
You might ask yourselves: why didn’t you do a search for potential children born to Richard and Jane before? Well, there are a couple of explanations. First, Morris is a very common surname in Herefordshire. Secondly, Birch wasn’t Jane’s maiden name, and without that crucial piece of information, it was just impossible to narrow down results without going into the realms of pure guesswork.
Naturally my first instinct was to try and see if I could find out anything about little Samuel Morris. His mother, Jane, unfortunately died in early 1926, when he would have been about ten years of age, and his father Richard, as I already mentioned, passed away in 1931, when Samuel was about 16. Luckily, I suppose, Samuel still had some close family nearby – let us not forget that he had at least one sister called Gertrude Annie who, being slightly older, would surely have been in a position to look after him.
Gertrude Annie’s birth entry on the GRO index now gave me a birth year of 1908, which means she was about eight years older than her half-brother Samuel. By cross-referencing with Samuel’s own birth in 1915, I also discovered that her mother’s maiden name was Addis, a surname I have not come across before in this part of Herefordshire. Finding Jane Addis’s marriage to a man called Arthur Birch in 1890 was easy enough, and I was quite surprised to find out they actually had quite a lot of children: Lilian Elizabeth (1890), Edith Hannah (1892), Arthur (1895), Bertha Annie (1896), Benjamin Charles (1898) and Mary Jane (1901).
But then tragedy struck when Jane’s husband Arthur died in 1901… which begs the question, how on earth did he father another daughter, Gertrude Annie, in 1908? Quite obviously he didn’t, which leads me to conclude Jane, by now a widow, became pregnant by an unknown man (not her first husband, and almost certainly not Richard Morris either). There’s an interesting twist to the family’s story!
So, it is evident that Samuel Morris had no shortage of half-siblings who could have taken him under their wing when he was orphaned at the age of 16, and while he was probably already considered old enough to earn a living by himself, I would love to find some indication that he was not left exclusively to his own devices at such a young age.
You will, therefore, understand my surprise – and disappointment – when I found him as a passenger on a vessel in 1932, emigrating to Canada to work as a farmer in Ontario. Not just that, but his nearest relative back at home was given as the Rector of Pembridge, Herefordshire, who had been appointed his guardian. What of Samuel’s half-brothers and sisters?
There are still many mysteries surrounding Samuel Morris – not least, what happened to him upon landing in Halifax in 1932. Did he make it to Ontario? Did he remain in Canada? Did he ever return to England? What happened to his half-siblings, and what was his relationship with them? I wish I knew!
If you could choose to be related to any celebrity who has appeared on the well-known genealogy TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, who would it be? Well, if any of the stories that have been researched so far happen to cover an area of the world where you have roots, then you may be in for a surprise – sooner or later!
That is precisely what happened to me very recently. A few months ago, frustrated by hitting genealogy brick wall after genealogy brick wall, I decided to tackle a particular line in my ancestry which I had long been neglecting. For you see, most of my English ancestors came from the rural county of Herefordshire, but I have also found a few lines that spill over the border into neighbouring Worcestershire, Monmouthshire and – much to my delight – Shropshire.
Rather unexpectedly -at least, for someone researching their English ancestry – I rather quickly managed to trace my line of female ancestors several generations, from my great-great-great-grandmother Ellen Morris (née Mound) to her great-grandmother Eleanor Crump (née Hammond). The Hammonds lived in the south of Shropshire and, while by the time of Eleanor’s birth in 1739 the family had lost much of its former prominence, I was pleased to find a small fortune hidden away in the will left by Eleanor’s great-grandfather’s brother Bernard.
In the said will, Bernard Hammond bestowed over £3,000 to his surviving brothers and sisters, as well as various nieces and nephews. Strangely, his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Holland, of Burwarton and a gentleman, was left next to nothing. Was that the result of a family rift, do you suppose, or were Thomas and Elizabeth so well off that her father saw no reason to bestow further riches on the young couple?
Be that as it may, the will opened up a series of family relationships that I probably wouldn’t have found out about had they not been so clearly spelt out in the document. Interestingly, it turns out that the above-mentioned Hollands appear to be the ancestors of Harriet Baugh, who in 1796 married Gustavus Hamilton, 6th Baron Boyne. One of their descendants married Margaret Lascelles, whose brother was married to Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt Princess Mary (later the Countess of Harewood!). Related to the great and the good at last, as I suspected…!
But that’s not the end of my upmarket discoveries on the Hammond side. Bernard’s brother (another of my ancestor Eleanor’s great-great-uncles) was none other than John Hammond, rector of Gawsworth, in Cheshire, and the husband of Alice Lucy, of the prominent Lucy family, who owned Charlecote Park. I knew nothing about them, but a bit of extra digging revealed that only a generation or two later, the main Lucy line died out and one of John and Alice’s descendants inherited the estate – swapping their Hammond surname for the more prestigious Lucy!
My search for additional documents on the notorious Hammond family eventually led me to a set of records that rather excitingly referred to my ancestors (and Eleanor’s paternal grandparents) Bernard Hammond and Rebecca Minton, who were married in 1710 in Eaton-under-Heywood, Shropshire. There can be little doubt as to Rebecca’s maiden name, since she christened her first-born son Minton. But wait, there’s more! Thanks to Shropshire Archives’ amazing online catalogue, which has now become something of a second home to me, I managed to find a set of records relating to the Minton estate!
The documents read like a family saga, and mention at least four different generations of my family from the late 17th century up to the death of poor old Minton Hammond in 1766. The first of these records is in fact the dowry agreed to prior to the marriage celebrated between Rebecca’s parents, who were called Richard Minton and Rebecca Sheppard. Theirs must have been a happy but very brief marriage, for they had four daughters born between 1692 and 1699. Sadly, the mother died three months after giving birth to her youngest daughter; her widower passed away barely six years later.
All four of Richard and Rebecca’s orphaned daughters made suitable marriages to local “gentlemen”, as they are described on the marriage register: Ann, the eldest, married Benjamin Russell of Enchmarsh, in the parish of Cardington; Rebecca, as we have already seen, married Bernard Hammond of Hatton; Mary married James Lewis of Childs Mill, in the parish of Wistanstow; and Elizabeth, the youngest, married her father’s second cousin and eventual heir Thomas Minton of Minton, who later inherited much of the family property.
I could go on about the Minton family for hours and talk about how some family pedigrees that I dug up in Shropshire Archives take the family line back to the reign of Edward II – purportedly – but alas, my Mintons will have to wait for another time. Let’s explore the Sheppard line, which still held a few more surprises for me.
Richard Minton’s wife, Rebecca Sheppard, was the daughter of one Richard Sheppard, who was born sometime in the first half of the 17th century. While he is not named in his grandfather’s will (dated 1631), his father Richard, uncle John and John’s son (also called Richard Sheppard) are all explicitly mentioned. This cousin Richard appears to have either inherited or purchased Middleton, the family property located in the parish of Bitterley. Middleton belonged at one point to my ancestor Richard Sheppard, from the main family line, but if it was entailed, then I suspect the land reverted to his cousin as his closest male relative – bear in mind “my” Richard died in 1706 leaving four daughters but no sons.
Be that as it may, this cousin Richard appears to have married twice. His first wife, the former Miss Anne Russell, was of the parish of Cardington and probably a kinswoman of the Benjamin Russell mentioned above. After Anne’s death in 1700, Richard married Mary Hall – a match which shaped his descendants’ fortunes forever.
Mary Hall belonged to a well-to-do family who owned Park Hall, in Bitterley. The property was initially owned by her brother William Hall, serjeant at law, but on his death sometime before September 1721 his estate reverted to his sister’s son William Sheppard – who thus adopted the last name Hall. This fortunate nephew, however, only enjoyed his good fortune for ten short years, prior to his death aged 25. As he was a bachelor, the Hall/Sheppard property once again trickled down through the female line to his sister Elizabeth Sheppard. Elizabeth had been married since 1722 to the splendidly named Wredenhall Pearce and by him had no less than twelve children!
The Pearces were a well-established gentry family from the nearby parish of Stanton Lacy, and the Hall/Sheppard estate eventually came to be inherited by Wrendehall and Elizabeth’s son William Pearce Hall. His marriage to Catherine Comyn in 1759 produced only one daughter, Catherine, who now stood to inherit a rather fabulous fortune and collection of properties.
Catherine’s appearance on the Georgian social scene must have been a welcome sight for someone like Charles Rouse-Boughton, an impoverished baronet who in 1794 inherited Downton Hall as well as the title – but, crucially, not the family fortune – from his dissipated elder brother, Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton. I don’t want to spoil their story, as it was covered in a Who Do You Think You Are? episode in 2008 – and if you remember who it was about, then you’ve probably guessed where this article is going!
Charles Rouse-Boughton and my 4th cousin (eight times removed) Catherine Pearce Hall were married in Westminster in 1782. Their eldest son was the ancestor of the future Rouse-Boughton baronets of Lawford Parva, Rouse Lench and Downton Hall – a double title that became extinct on the death of the last direct male descendant in 1963.
Charles and Catherine’s daughter Louise Rouse-Boughton did not inherit the family title, but her lineage is nevertheless very interesting because it connects me to a well-known TV personality and the protagonist of the aforesaid Who Do You Think You Are? episode. Louise’s son (through her first marriage) was St. Andrew Beauchamp St. John. Yes, that was his actual name! Among the latter’s children was one Laura St. John, who in 1867 married Connolly Thomas McCausland. Their son, Maurice (1872-1938) was the father of Helen Laura (1903-2000), and her daughter is the mother of none other than BBC One’s Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong!
So, besides discovering my link to Shropshire gentry – and who knows what other treasures may be lurking up my family tree – I have also made the rather exciting discovery that I am the 11th cousin (once removed) of Alexander Armstrong. His family’s fascinating tale, which explores not just the story of the Rouse-Boughtons but also Alexander’s connection to the Dukes of Somerset and his distant genealogical link to royalty, was told in the sixth episode of the seventh series of Who Do You Think You Are?, which aired in August 2010.
Go on! What are you waiting for to re-watch it? After all, it’s MY family as much as Alexander’s!
When my 24 year-old Italian great-grandfather Giacomo boarded a ship and emigrated to the United States in 1910, he left behind a tiny family unit composed of solely by his mother, Margherita. She was listed on the passenger list as his next of kin in Giacomo’s home country. One might therefore ask the question: why did he not mention his father? Had he passed away by then, perhaps?
Vincenzo – Giacomo’s father – has always been a man of mystery. Neither we in Europe nor our cousins in America ever knew what became of him. A few years ago, Giacomo’s daughter told us that Vincenzo had abandoned his wife Margherita early on in the marriage “because she was difficult to put up with” and moved away – to Genoa, she believed.
But tracing someone’s whereabouts in Italy if you do not know where they lived, particularly at the turn of the century, is almost literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. You simple need to know in which town or city the record you are looking for is located. Nowadays, websites such as FamilySearch and Antenati are of course allowing users to make general searches using a name and surname – but alas, Vincenzo does not appear among the results. Indeed, as we did not know when or where Vincenzo died – let alone where he lived between the time of his marriage and his death – we always suspected this was going to be a hard nut to crack.
Vincenzo had been born in 1859 in the small market town of Nizza Monferrato, in the Italian province of Piedmont. He was probably his parents’ youngest child – though how many elder siblings he had remains an open question. However, since his parents (Gerolamo and Francesca) had married in 1840, it is not unreasonable to suppose they may have had a significant number of children over the ensuing 19 years. Vincenzo’s father Gerolamo would have been comparatively old by the time his youngest son was growing up and, while I may not know when he died, I do know that by the time of Vincenzo’s wedding to Margherita in 1886, Gerolamo had already passed away before having reached the age of 70. As you will see, the absence of a father figure is a recurring feature on this side of my family tree.
In March 1886, Vincenzo married Margherita. How that union came about, I do not know. 23 year-old Margherita was her parents’ eldest surviving daughter. Her father had died comparatively young two years earlier, leaving his widow with seven young mouths to feed. Consequently, Margherita may have been expected to marry quickly in order to bring in an extra helping hand to raise the children and work the land. If this was indeed the plan, then it seems to have backfired quickly.
Margherita and Vincenzo do not seem to have cohabited together for very long. I cannot be sure of how long they actually lived together, but by the time their first and only son was born the following December, Vincenzo was already absent from the family home. The responsibility of registering little Giacomo’s birth in the local registry office therefore fell on Margherita’s mother.
The question immediately arises: had Vincenzo abandoned his wife and unborn child? Or was he working elsewhere at the time when Giacomo came into this world? I doubt we will ever be sure of the answer. However, in view of subsequent events, it looks likely that Vincenzo played a very limited role in Giacomo’s upbringing.
Giacomo grew up in the Italian countryside surrounded not only by apple orchards and vineyards, but also by many of his mother’s relatives. The house, located in the small hamlet of Casalotto, is but a few miles outside the town of Nizza Monferrato, where his father had been born. Whether he ever saw Vincenzo – wherever he had gone to – or had any communication with him will always remain a mystery.
But where was Vincenzo? Where and when did he die? Were his wife and son ever made aware of his passing? Let’s look at the facts:
As already mentioned, Vincenzo married Margherita in March 1886, but by the following December he and his wife no longer appear to have been living under the same roof. When his son Giacomo emigrated to America in 1910, he made no reference to his father (although admittedly this cannot be taken as indicative that Vincenzo was alive or dead). When many years later Margherita died in 1945, she was described on the death certificate as Vincenzo’s widow.
Vincenzo and Margherita’s son Giacomo lived in the United States for the rest of his life, but thanks to ship passenger lists, we know that he travelled back to Italy several times. The first trip back home that we know of probably took place in or around 1914/1915. There are several reasons why he may have done so, but one possibility is that he may have gone back to sort out paperwork for his impending nuptials. Giacomo travelled back to America in March 1915, and married my great-grandmother Giovanna the following September. The marriage certificate, issued in New York City, does not provide any information about Giacomo’s father beyond his name and surname. So it’s back to square one.
In 1916 Giacomo and Giovanna’s only child, my grandfather Peter, was born. It is striking that they did not name the child Vincenzo (Italian families usually named the first son after the paternal grandfather), but instead chose the name him Peter. Of course, one has to bear in mind that Pietro was the name of Giovanna’s father, and that little Peter was born on the feast day of Saint Peter, but still, the fact that they did not given their only son the name Vincenzo – even as a middle name – could well be interpreted as a sign that Giacomo did not wish to perpetuate his absent father’s name within the family…
In 1920 Giacomo’s young wife, Giovanna, sadly passed away in New York aged only 24. Giacomo was not only heartbroken, but now had the responsibility of raising his four year-old child single-handedly. It was soon decided that Peter would be better off if he could be sent to Italy to be brought up by Margherita. The boy’s life in Italy was something that he apparently always remembered fondly. He may have been motherless, and to all effects, he may have almost felt fatherless as well, since Giacomo remained in the United States, but young Peter was spoilt to the extreme by his grandmother from the very beginning. A photo of him with other school friends taken in the early 1920s shows a mischievous-looking child, tall for his age – a little American boy surrounded by Italian country children.
By the mid-1920s Peter’s widowed father Giacomo made up his mind to marry again. He was still comparatively young at 39, and more importantly, he was doing quite well for himself professionally: he probably felt that he needed to recall his son from Italy and start afresh with a new wife by his side. So, in 1926, he went home once again, only this time he intended on marrying in Italy.
His marriage certificate, issued in his home town, again includes his father’s name, only this time specified that Vincenzo was deceased. Besides his widow’s death certificate, this fact was the first indication that Vincenzo had passed away during his wife’s lifetime. Finding out when and where would be harder to prove. Did he die in Genoa, as his granddaughter later suggested? Or did he perhaps emigrate, as his son would do a few years later?
As I often do in such cases, I drew a timeline of Vincenzo’s moves and analysed each fact as objectively as I could. Vincenzo definitely died between 1886, when his son was born, and 1926, when his son married his second wife. The forty-year gap would not be easy to bridge, but luckily I have the good fortune to know a few nice people in Italy who have access to invaluable records. I therefore decided to ask the civil registry of Nizza Monferrato – Vincenzo’s home town – to see if they had any indication as to when and where he may have died. My prayers were answered within a week of sending the email request: Vincenzo’s death certificate, which is registered in that very same town where he had grown up, confirms he died in November 1917 at the age of 58!
So, far from moving away very far, or even emigrating to the New World, dissatisfied Vincenzo was hiding almost in plain sight all this time, living a stone’s throw away from his estranged wife and his son, to whom he was probably little more than a stranger. Unsurprisingly, Vincenzo’s death was not registered by his widow (Giacomo, we must remember, was already living in New York at the time), but by someone called Giuseppina, who was aged 33. Who this young woman is I do not know, but given her age, and the fact that she shares the same surname as Vincenzo, I can only presume she might be his niece.
To the very end, Vincenzo, who probably had a limited memory of his own father, refused to have anything to do with his wife and son. Giacomo therefore effectively grew up fatherless, and tried to start afresh in America. Sadly, his own son, Peter, also grew up without a father figure when he was sent to be brought up by his grandmother in Italy. And let us not forget that during WW2 Peter himself would go on to leave a young Englishwoman pregnant and subsequently abandoned her before their son – my father – was born. Considering the four subsequent generations of fatherless male ancestors I am descended from, I can only state how lucky I am to have been brought up with a loving father by my side.
To most of you, the name Eleanor Whitney probably doesn’t mean a thing – and why should it? She was a late Medieval woman about whom extremely little is known. She is not even known to have done anything particularly remarkable in her lifetime. We don’t even know when she was born, or when she died.
So who was she? Why am I writing about her? And why do I want to know who her mother was?
The reason why I want to explore Eleanor Whitney’s life and family is very simple: first, she may have been one of my ancestors. And even more excitingly, she may have been the great-granddaughter of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York via his daughter Constance, Countess of Gloucester! At least, that is what a number of sources (which I’ll talk about shortly) appear to suggest, albeit without providing much in the way of hard proof to substantiate as much.
A number of sources claim that Eleanor Whitney, who would go on to marry a Thomas Vaughan, was one of the daughters of Robert Whitney by one of his two (possibly three) wives. Robert Whitney was a Medieval gentleman – not a Sir as many sources claim, but still, the lord of the manor of Whitney-on-Wye, a small village on the Herefordshire border with Wales. His date of birth is unknown, but is commonly placed at around the 1430s. He certainly died by (but not long before) 6 October 1494, according to the abstract of his will. The vast majority of sources support the theory that he married twice, although there is a remote chance he was married a third time.
Until a few years ago, it was generally accepted that Robert Whitney’s first wife (whose name we’ll omit for now) belonged to a branch of the Vaughan family, a large network of Welsh lineages all presumably connected to Sir Roger Vaughan – who incidentally many sources claim (wrongly, according to Adam Chapman) to have been killed in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. However, recent research by Adrian Benjamin Burke found seemingly irrefutable evidence that Robert Whitney’s first wife was actually called Constance.
The deed from which this information was taken was signed by Robert Whitney himself on 8 October 1492, thus proving not only that he was alive at the time, but more importantly that the source is contemporary (the late 15th century being a notoriously bad period for records). The document reads: “…shall remain to the said Robert Whitney and his heirs by himself and the body of Custance [Constance] formerly his first wife, daughter of James Audeley, knight, lord Audeley, lawfully begotten, for ever to hold of the chief lords of that fee for services thereof formerly owed and customary…“.
Although the document does not explicitly say as much, there are several details we can definitely infer from this short passage. The first and most obvious one is that Robert and Constance were no longer married by 1492, when the deed was written. This very probably means that Constance had died by then (or else that her marriage to Robert had been annulled, which seems unlikely in view of the times and given the existence of issue from their marriage). The second, and perhaps more important piece of information is that Constance was Robert’s first wife, not his second/last wife, as many non-contemporary sources claim, and therefore that Robert had obviously been married at least once after Constance’s death (given that she is referred to as “his first wife”).
At some point after being widowed, Robert was married to a woman from the Vaughan family. Her name is variously given as Alice, Elizabeth or, though less frequently, Elsbeth. The source of the confusion may simply be phonetic. On this matter, I again rely on Burke’s meticulous research, which reads as follows:
The Welsh poet Lewis Glyn Cothi wrote a lengthy, yet sadly undated, epithalamium in tribute to the marriage of merch Tomas ab Rosser/Meistres Alis dewiser, [Mistress Alice, daughter of Thomas son of Roger] to Robert Whitney, Esq. Having established that Constance Touchet was Robert’s first wife, his marriage to the daughter of Tomas ab Rosser [Thomas ap Roger Vaughan of Hergest] must have occurred before the execution of the deed.
Various pedigrees and non-contemporary sources confused the first and second names of Whitney’s second wife. One pedigree referred to her as the daughter of Thomas Rogers, which seems to be an amalgam of her father and grandfather’s first names. This is likely due to the Welsh patronymic naming custom. Other sources called her Elsbeth and still others, Alice. As for being called Alice, perhaps the transition of her first name went something like: Elisabeth > Elsbeth > Eliz’ > Alis > Alice. The first name of Robert Whitney’s widow was Elizabeth. This is proved by the record of the granting of the administration of the estate of Robert Whitney, Esq.
The will of Robert Whitteney esq., of the parish of Whitteney was granted to Elizabeth his relict and James his son. James appeared at Hereford on 27 September when he was granted to administer and power was reserved for Elizabeth to administer at a later date.
The question must be asked, however, whether Alice Vaughan was his second wife and Elizabeth his widow was yet a third, previously unidentified wife? The range of documents examined for this article make no mention of a distinct third wife, and the confusion surrounding her Welsh name and the irregularities of medieval English script and spelling suggest to me that Alice, whose marriage to Whitney was described by Cothi, and Elizabeth, his widow, were in fact one and the same.
In the absence of contemporary information to suggest otherwise, I believe Burke’s theory that Alice (or Elizabeth) Vaughan were the same person is very probably correct. As he says, although her date of death is not known, she was certainly alive in May 1525, when the record granting her the administration of her husband’s will was dated, some thirty years after her husband’s death. Unless she lived to be over ninety, as Robert Whitney died in the early 1490s being approximately sixty years of age, it follows that his widow Alice/Elizabeth was in all likelihood somewhat younger, possibly by upwards of a decade.
The identity of Alice/Elizabeth’s mother is contested; some sources mention her mother was Jane Trussell, while others state she was the daughter of Ellen Gethin, known in popular culture as Ellen the Terrible. On the other hand, the identity of Alice/Elizabeth’s father is well documented, for he was none other than Thomas Black Vaughan (son of the aforementioned Roger Vaughan who many wrongly say was killed in Agincourt). Thomas was probably born around the year 1400, given that the earliest contemporary document that mentions him, dated 1422, records him as the constable of the castle of Huntingdon (about two miles from his family seat at Hergest, on the Welsh border). Between 1453 and 1454 he received three lordships (Brecknock, Hay and Huntingdon itself), but in spite of these favours, Thomas Vaughan does not seem to have been regarded as a fully trustworthy supporter of the House of Lancaster, for in 1457 he and some of his kinsmen were granted a general pardon by the Coventry Parliament. This has been interpreted as an indication that the advisers of the weak Henry VI hoped to prevent Vaughan and his associates from joining the ranks of Richard, Duke of York, who had gathered much support in the Welsh Marches. The bribe must have worked, for in 1460 Thomas Vaughan was given a commission to seize the castles and manors of the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick in Elvell, Melenith, Gwerthrynion and the Herefordshire border. The following year, Vaughan was appointed receiver of the three lordships during the minority of the heir to the duchy of Buckingham. However, the Vaughans were by then eminently Yorkists at heart, and despite these grants, Thomas and his brothers eventually joined the Yorkist party by 1467. Thomas Black Vaughan was still a fervent supporter of the Yorkist cause when he was killed at the Battle of Edgecote, near Banbury, Northamptonshire in July 1469.
From a genealogical viewpoint, Black Vaughan’s death in 1469 can only mean that his children, (including his daughter Alice/Elizabeth, who was the become the latter wife of Robert Whitney prior to 1492), must have been born at the very latest in 1470. There is no way of knowing of course how close Alice/Elizabeth was in age to her future husband, but if she was indeed younger than Robert (as her date of death would seem to suggest) and had been born well before 1469, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that she may have been born sometime in the 1440s or 1450s, which would still make her a good ten or twenty years her husband’s junior.
Let’s go back to Robert Whitney and his family. Robert is known to have had a number of children, though their names vary from source to source, as does their birth order (or indeed approximate year of birth). As far as I know, there is no contemporary evidence that proves how many children he had or indeed what all their names were, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong! This blank in his family history of course leaves much room for speculation as to who his children’s mother may have been. Many sources affirm that all of Robert’s children were born to his first wife – though the same sources claim Constance was the second wife, which we now know to be untrue. Most sources also seem to agree that Robert had a daughter called Joan, who later married Roger Vaughan of Talgarth, another member of the extended Vaughan family. Those same sources claim Joan was Constance’s daughter. Many of the said sources give varying accounts as to which of Robert’s other children were born to which wife, and so – if we are to hazard a guess – we need to look at the hard facts, if not to reach a solid conclusion, then at least to make an educated guess.
Robert Whitney’s son and heir was called James, and there is general consensus among academics that he was born during Robert’s marriage to Constance. The name James does not appear to have been used by the Whitney family prior to this period, which is why it cannot be a coincidence that it was also the name of Constance’s father, James Touchet, Baron Audley (c.1398-1459). A staunch Lancastrian, Touchet had been a distinguished veteran of the Hundred Years’ War and was killed at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459. It follows, therefore, that Whitney and his wife would have chosen his name for one of their sons.
To the best of my knowledge, no solid proof has been put forward as to the real identity of Robert Whitney’s other children, and while we may never find the answer, I think there is strong evidence to suggest that Constance also gave birth to at least a third child: my (purported) ancestor Eleanor Whitney.
My reasons for assuming this are that, like James, the name Eleanor is not found in any of the genealogies of the Whitney family to which I have had access. Nor does it seem to have been a popular name prior to the 1450s among the Vaughan family, to which as we’ll remember Robert Whitney’s widow Alice/Elizabeth belonged (although one might wonder if the name of Ellen the Terrible or indeed her daughter-in-law Elinor Wogan, wife of Walter Vaughan of Bredwardine, may have served as an inspiration…?). Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that Eleanor was the name of Constance Touchet’s mother. And if Robert Whitney gave the name of his father-in-law to his son, it follows that he too may have given his mother-in-law’s name to his own daughter. Theophilus Jones, in his non-contemporary opus A History of the County of Brecknock, states that Thomas Vaughan married Elinor, d[aughter of] Sir (sic) Rob[ert] Whitney by a d[aughter of] L[or]d Audley. While Jones’s work is not without its inaccuracies (the story of Roger Vaughan being slain at Agincourt is once again mentioned), it does cite “a pedigree preserved in the family” as his primary source for the family trees it features.
Robert’s first wife Constance Touchet was one of the daughters born to James Touchet, Baron Audley and his second wife Eleanor Holland (his first wife being Margaret de Ros). The couple obtained a marriage licence on 14 September 1430, during the minority of Henry VI, having been dispensed because they were related within the 3rd degree of affinity (i.e. they were related to each other spiritually, but not by blood). James Touchet’s first marriage had also been dispensed, albeit because he and Margaret were related within the prohibited degrees of kindred (i.e. they were related by blood).
No such provision seems to have been made for either of his son-in-law Robert Whitney’s marriages to Constance or Alice/Elizabeth. This can mean that the records in question have not survived, or else that he was not related by blood or affinity to either of his wives (as seems to be the case if one believes the multiple Whitney, Touchet and Vaughan genealogies online). But what of his daughter Eleanor’s marriage? Can it shed any light on who her real mother was?
Eleanor Whitney, the main character in this complicated saga, married Thomas Vaughan on an unknown date sometime during the second half of the 15th century. Thomas was the son of Walter Vaughan and Elinor Wogan, and therefore a grandson of the same Roger Vaughan who was killed at the Battle of Edgecote in 1469. In other words, he was a first cousin of Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan, Robert Whitney’s second wife.
So, in view of Eleanor Whitney’s marriage to Thomas Vaughan, we are looking at two different theories, depending on who her mother was:
If Eleanor’s mother was Constance Touchet, and Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan was her step-mother, then it follows that when she married Thomas Vaughan, she was marrying her stepmother’s first cousin (or perhaps she married Thomas Vaughan and then his cousin Alice/Elizabeth later married his widowed father-in-law Robert Whitney).
If Eleanor’s mother was Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan, then it follows that Thomas Vaughan was her first cousin once removed, a close enough relationship to warrant a marriage dispensation for reasons of kindred. No such dispensation seems to exist, though this cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that they were not indeed related to each other.
There is perhaps an additional piece of the jigsaw which may support the firstof these two theories. One of Eleanor’s sons, Richard Vaughan, seems to have been knighted at Tournai in October 1513, when he would have been about eighteen years of age at the very youngest (he was later appointed Sheriff of Herefordshire, retaining the post between 1530 and 1541). This means that Richard must have been born, at the very latest, in the late 1490s, but may have been born earlier. If he was, say, born in the 1470s or even the 1480s, his mother Eleanor would necessarily have been born approximately two decades before him at least; in other words, Eleanor must have been born in the 1450s or 1460s. Such a time span seems to be more consistent with Constance Touchet’s estimated year of birth (circa 1430s) rather than with Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan’s estimated year of birth (which, as mentioned, is unknown, but considering she died after 1525, she would have been nearing her 90th year had she been born anywhere close to 1440…).
In conclusion: while we may not have conclusive evidence to pinpoint Eleanor Whitney’s true parentage, I believe the evidence strongly suggests that her mother was in fact Constance Touchet, based on the following arguments:
Eleanor was probably named in honour of her maternal grandmother, Eleanor Holland, Lady Audley.
No evidence exists to support the fact that her marriage to Thomas Vaughan received a dispensation – which would have been necessary had she been marrying her mother’s first cousin.
At least one of Eleanor’s children was born by the late 1490’s, if not earlier, setting her estimated year of birth in about the 1450s/1460s, which would make it perfectly plausible for her mother to have been born in or around 1430, as is likely to be the case for Constance Touchet.
Even if you are not an expert on this part of history or the Vaughans, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my pet theory about Eleanor Whitney’s parentage. If you have additional information, access to contemporary sources or else think I may have overlooked an important piece of evidence, please drop me a comment or send me an email.
And for those of you wondering, my line to Thomas Vaughan and Eleanor Whitney presumably comes through their son Thomas, who married a daughter of Richard Parry of Poston. Their presumed son William Vaughan married one of kinswomen, whose first name is unknown, but she is known to have been one of the daughters of William Vaughan of Claus. Their alleged son, another Thomas, is my (proven) 12x great-grandmother Sybil Vaughan’s father.
One of the most intriguing genealogical mysteries I have encountered lately is the private life of my (probably very distant) relative Anna Amerio, and her very peculiar family arrangement – for you see, for a number of years she lived and had several children with a man… who was NOT the man she was married to! [Audience gasps] For the record, there is a family tree chart towards the end of this article which may help you understand the many relationships mentioned below.
It is difficult to state when or where Anna was even born, as her existence is deduced through records that do not directly relate to her. She may have been born sometime around 1833. Her parents’ identities are equally mysterious, for the simple reason that I have not been able to pinpoint her baptism record. Again, more on that later.
But in the absence of these vital clues, what do I know about Anna? She first crops up in December 1869, when her son Leonardo Caire passed away aged two years in the hamlet known as Regione Cortetta, within the boundaries of the parish of San Marzano Oliveto, in the Italian region of Piedmont. The record makes no explicit mention as to whether Anna and the child’s father, Emanuele Caire, were married. However, the record does seem to contain some contradictory information: it clearly states that the unfortunate child had been born in the same parish; and yet, no baptism for him exists – in San Marzano Oliveto at least. This may suggest he was in fact born elsewhere, as I’ll explain shortly.
The next record where I have been able to find Anna’s name mentioned is the 1870 birth of her next son, Bartolomeo, who is clearly recorded as the son “of the illegitimate union” between Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio. The birth also took place in the above-mentioned hamlet of Cortetta.
In 1872 Anna gave birth to a daughter called Carolina Clementina, who was registered as illegitimate in the local registry office. After her birth, Anna would produce three more children (Giacomo in 1875, Antonia in 1877 and a second Leonardo in 1879), all of whom were registered as either illegitimate, or otherwise recorded as children of the unmarried couple Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio.
The absence of a marriage between a couple who clearly spent so many years cohabiting (presumably!) and procreating must necessarily beg the question: why didn’t they get married at some stage? And, given the fact that this is the only case of an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship living in the area between 1808 and 1926, I assume it can only mean one thing: that at least one of them wasn’t free to marry.
Locating Anna’s death record seemed straightforward at first: she was still alive when her daughter Carolina married in 1887, but she was already deceased at the time of her other daughter Antonia’s marriage in 1894. That can only mean that Anna died between 1887 and 1894. And yet, having thoroughly gone through the death records for San Marzano Oliveto covering that time span, I can conclude that no such document survives for an Anna Amerio who was listed as Emanuele Caire’s partner or mistress. But then again, would she have been listed as someone’s lover on an official record such as her own death certificate?
There is one – only one – intriguing candidate who fits the bill nicely, albeit while generating many more questions than answers…
In July 1893 (in other words, during the timeframe we are looking at for Anna’s death) a married woman called Anna Amerio died in San Marzano Oliveto at the age of sixty. No reference to the place or hamlet where she lived is made, and the two men who registered her death both bear the surname Amerio, leading me to believe they were either neighbours or more probably relatives of hers. The surname Caire is conspicuously absent from the record – which is not altogether surprising if this woman was the same person as Emanuele Caire’s long-term mistress. Or was she?
The most important clue on the death record is that the deceased is referred to as the wife of one Nicola Filippone. The wife, mind you, and not the widow. So, unless someone made a mistake in the registry, Mr Filippone, whoever and wherever he was, was still very much alive at the time. Read on, read on.
I then looked for the marriage certificate for Anna Amerio and the mysterious Mr Filippone, which actually took place in 1852. The bride’s parents are listed as Bartolomeo and Antonia, a name which Anna would give to her first (and, as far as I know, her only) legitimate daughter in 1854. The trail then goes cold until Anna’s death nearly fifty years later.
There are several intriguing coincidences between the woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852 and the one who set up house with Emanuele Caire about a decade later. As I’ve established, Anna (aka Mrs Filippone) was the daughter of Bartolomeo and Antonia – names which Emanuele Caire’s mistress would later give to two of her illegitimate children. Another uncanny coincidence is that Mr Filippone was from the nearby town of Nizza Monferrato, and may well have moved back there with his family after his marriage to Anna; perhaps not coincidentally, Emanuele Caire’s mistress had at least one child, heretofore unmentioned, in Nizza Monferrato in about 1867 (we know this because the said daughter, called Rosa, married in San Marzano Oliveto in 1884, but is recorded as being born in Nizza). So, apart from the coincidence of names and dates, there is definitely the spatial element to consider as a plausible link between the two families.
Let us not forget that intriguing detail of Mr Filippone being alive at the time of Anna’s death in 1893. If this is indeed correct, and assuming that their marriage had broken down sometime before the late 1860s, there was no way that Anna could have married Emanuele Caire during her husband’s lifetime, which might explain why she always remained his publicly-accepted lover. The fact that Mr Filippone survived his wife, and lived in the same village as her, leads me to believe he may have been an extremely supportive and open-minded husband. Cheers to him!
While there is still an element of assumption and guesswork here, to my mind there is little doubt as to what really happened. Here’s the story, as best as I can make it out, based on the evidence I have just explained: Maria Anna (as she was baptised) was born to Bartolomeo and Antonia Amerio in San Marzano Oliveto in 1835. In 1852, four days after her 17th birthday, she married Giovanni Nicola Filippone, and the couple had at least a daughter together, Maria Antonia (whose fate is unknown). I think it quite plausible to suppose that at some point the couple settled in Nizza Monferrato, where Nicola originally came from. Relations between husband and wife, for whatever reason, deteriorated at some stage, although it certainly seems like later they both ended up living in San Marzano Oliveto (not necessarily under the same roof, mind!). Either way, Nicola and Anna were still legally married, and the existence of at least one daughter made annulling the match practically impossible.
Enter Emanuele Caire, whom Maria Anna (aka Anna) would have known back from San Marzano Oliveto. He was about three years her junior, and may have been everything she hoped for in a man. I know for a fact that they had at least one daughter, Rosa, while they were living in Nizza Monferrato – and I’m pretty sure their eldest son Leonardo (the one who died in 1869 aged two and whose birth had allegedly taken place in San Marzano Oliveto) was in reality born in Nizza as well. The pair and their small family unit moved in the late 1860s to San Marzano Oliveto, where they each had close relatives. The fact that they openly lived together for so many years as husband and wife in all but name suggests they were accepted within their community as a somewhat unconventional couple. The birth of five more children (including Bartolomeo and Antonia – who as I said were probably so christened in honour of Anna’s own parents) cemented the relationship.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
There is of course a sad epilogue to this story. If Anna ever hoped to marry her beloved Emanuele, she was to be sorely disappointed. In 1893 she died at the age of sixty, according to her death certificate – she would have been fifty-eight in fact. It cannot be a coincidence that she was registered as the wife of Nicola Filippone: after all, legally that is precisely what she was, and for all her love towards Emanuele Caire, a legal relationship would have been considered much more relevant to a civil registrar than a somewhat scandalous, if long-standing amorous liaison to a man who in effect had never been her husband.
So, where to from here? First, I need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no other Anna Amerios who died between 1887 and 1894 (the church archives should soon provide an answer to that question). Secondly, I need to prove the birth of the two children born to Emanuele and Anna in Nizza Monferrato in the late 1860s. It would of course be useful to find a reference to Nicola Filippone’s death after 1893, which would indeed prove why his wife never married Emanuele Caire, but as he seems to have disappeared from the picture after 1854, I can’t say I’m holding my breath.
In any case, I’ll keep you posted [see below for an added update!]
The truth will out:
Well, since writing the above, I have had two strokes of luck. First, I have managed to locate the death record for Nicola Filippone, who died in 1900 as “the widower of Anna Amerio”. Nothing too surprising there. It does, however, prove that if his late wife had been Emanuele Caire’s lover, then it goes a long way to explain why she and Emanuele never married. They simply couldn’t.
And yet while the birth certificates for Anna’s illegitimate children Leonardo and Rosa in Nizza Monferrato are still eluding me, I have been fortunate to receive a communication from the local church archive telling me that, other than the woman I have found, there is no other Anna Amerio who died between 1887 and 1894. Moreover, the baptisms of the children who were born in San Marzano Oliveto (Bartolomeo, Carolina Clementina, Giacomo, Antonia and Leonardo) all state that they were illegitimate. And (here’s the best bit!) Anna is listed as being born in San Marzano Oliveto, and that her father was indeed called Bartolomeo.
Now, tragically the baptism records do not refer to Anna’s mother, which is somewhat unfortunate as that would have hit the nail on the head to prove her parentage, and therefore her identity. But I have gone through all the baptisms for an Anna, Anna Maria or Maria Anna born before the 1860s in San Marzano Oliveto, and there is only one person who fits the bill – and she just so happens to be the very same woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852.
And so, my dear readers, I come to the relieving conclusion that Anna Amerio did indeed marry Nicola Filippone in 1852, and that they had a daughter together. As a married woman, Anna seems to have lived in nearby Nizza Monferrato for some time, where she probably began a relationship with Emanuele Caire. The couple and their two infant children moved back to San Marzano Oliveto, where they had their remaining brood. It was there that Anna passed away in 1893, followed by her legal husband seven years later. I know not when or where Emanuele died (he certainly survived his beloved Anna) but I am confident one day I will be able to ask one of her descendants if the story of such a remarkable woman has been passed down the generations to this day. If not, let this article reveal the story of their trailblazing ancestor.
I think it’s time to take a short break from Italian genealogy, so I’ve decided to delve into the English side of my family tree instead! Looking at the various members of my extended family whom I’ve long neglected to explore, I decided to look at the life of Jane Dee (née Allen), my great-great-great-grandfather’s third cousin.
Jane Allen was baptised in the Herefordshire village of Colwall on 27 April 1805, according to the parish transcripts which are available online. Her parents were Sarah and Edward Allen – most likely to have been the same Edward Allen and Sarah Lockstone, who were married on 8 February 1802. Edward was a distant cousin of my own relations: his paternal grandfather Joseph was the younger brother of Richard Allen, my great-grandfather six times over. I am fairly confident that both branches of the family knew each other well, as they lived in the same village during the same period. It is also quite possible that in 1803 Edward Allen acted as godfather, or sponsor, at the baptism of his kinsman and namesake Edward Allen, who happened to be my great-great-great-grandfather!
While Jane’s father belonged to a fairly large family, her parents did not have many children themselves. In fact, I have only found evidence of them having two daughters: Jane herself, as well as her elder sister Kezia, who had been born in 1803, just over a year after her parents’ wedding.
Edward Allen worked as an inn keeper, and evidence from the latter half of his life suggests he owned or at least ran the Horse & Groom public house (later demolished and renamed the Horse & Jockey, which still stands to this day, albeit under a different name and purpose – in fact, it is now a Thai restaurant!).
It is highly likely that both Jane and her sister Kezia helped out with the running of the family business. It may have been in this context that they met their future husbands. Kezia was the first to wed, for in March 1832 she married James King, a well-to-do farmer who lived at Groves End and who would later be listed on the census as “employing eight men”. The couple would go on to have two children called Richard and Sarah Ann, both of whom would lead long lives – long enough to even see the dawn of the 20th century!
Following in her elder sister’s footsteps, 27-year-old Jane also decided to venture into matrimony shortly afterwards. Her choice of husband, however, was somewhat more unconventional than her sister’s, for in July 1832 she married James Dee, a farmer who was seven years her junior and, presumably, had far fewer prospects. But if anyone had any misgivings, Jane apparently soon proved them wrong. Settling into marital life, she gave birth to her first-born son before a full year had gone by. The boy was christened Richard Allen Dee, the middle name an obvious reference to Jane’s family.
But all was not well in the home of the Dees. In fact, soon thereafter, the family ran into financial trouble. The local press of the time reported that James Dee had to convey and assign his real and personal estate to trustees for the benefit of his creditors. It is quite likely that Jane’s parents came to the couple’s rescue, and in view of subsequent evidence, it is quite possible that the Dees moved into the Horse & Groom with Edward and Sarah Allen.
Jane gave birth to a second son, John, in 1834, but sadly the child died a few months later, his abode being listed as the Horse & Groom (this leads me to believe that Jane and her family lived at the pub, and probably worked there as well in order to make ends meet). James and Jane Dee’s personal and material losses were slightly compounded by the happy arrival of a daughter in July 1836, whom they christened Harriet Ann.
Alas, the couple’s happiness was to be short-lived. In September that same year, and only weeks after their daughter’s birth, James Dee died at the very young age of 24; his entry of burial refers to him as residing at the Horse & Groom. The cause or circumstances of his death remain unknown. Had he been ill for some time? Was his early death brought on by his recent financial strains? We will probably never know. What is certain is that the loss of her husband, and at such an early age, must have been a devastating blow to Jane. Fortunately for her and her children, her parents were by her side at the time, and it seems likely they would have provided for her and her infant children in this time of need.
Two years later Jane’s mother Sarah passed away; Edward Allen himself lived for another two years, dying in February 1841 of “old age”. Jane now became the head of a small family. Her children Richard and Harriet Ann were still under ten years of age, so she probably resorted to odd jobs and the occasional help from her sister Kezia to survive. Although still in her mid-thirties, Jane never remarried. Instead, it seems that she devoted herself to her children’s upbringing. By 1851 all three were living in Slad Acre, in Colwall (incidentally, one of their neighbours, Jonathan Lucy, was another distant relative of mine who is notorious in my family history for having hosted a group of American Mormon preachers in Colwall in the mid-1840s). By 1861 Jane, Richard and Harriet Ann were living at the Purlieu, in Upper Colwall, and while her son worked as a plasterer and her daughter as a dressmaker, Jane herself does not seem to have had a particular occupation.
Within three years both Richard and Harriet had found partners of their own. In 1863 Richard married Harriet Ann Pugh, from nearby Castlemorton (coincidentally, one of her sisters, Susannah Pugh, would later marry my great-great-grandfather’s brother William Henry Allen). They would go on to have four children called Annie Matilda, James Allen, Ada Jane and William Hooper Dee, who were all born either in Colwall or in nearby locations. On the other hand, Jane’s daughter Harriet Ann married Henry William Pantall, of Malvern, in 1864; the marriage remained childless.
Although her children did not live far, Jane spent the remaining years of her life living alone at the Purlieu. Without an apparent occupation, at least according to the census, it is difficult to know whether she did have to earn a living, or whether she relied on her relatives for support. Her apparent loneliness makes me wonder whether she was some sort of recluse, or if she was difficult to live with… or whether she simply preferred to live by herself!
Unfortunately, tragedy knocked at Jane’s door once again in early October 1876, when her eldest son Richard died aged 43 of a renal ailment known as Bright’s disease. Even if they did not live together, Jane must have felt her loss as acutely as any mother would, so much so that she began to show signs of mental instability. Her son had not been buried long when it was decided that Jane should be removed from her home.
Unfortunately, mental health issues were poorly understood at the time, and little would have been done to actually improve her state. She was soon taken to the workhouse, where her mental state continued to rapidly deteriorate: at first, her fits were brief, and she could not remember any of it afterwards. Later she developed an incoherent speech, was often found undressed and wandering about, shouting without apparent cause and disturbing other “inmates”.Within a few days, on 16 November 1876, 72-year-old Jane (“a spare old woman”) was admitted to Burghill Lunatic Asylum. Her papers state she was interned following an attack which had been brought on by distress due to the loss of her son.
As days went by, her state became much worse, her screaming more common and her temper more violent, even trying to attack others by throwing herself against them, falling on the floor and injuring herself in the process. Such attacks caused several bruises on her body which, combined with the fact that she had stopped eating her food, contributed to weakened her slight body. To calm her nerves, Jane was given morphine in regular intervals, but this only had a temporary soothing effect: for most of the time she was “excited” and had little appetite.
By early January 1877 Jane’s physical and mental state had deteriorated beyond hope. By the 11th a medical report stated she had been suffering from diarrhoea for a full fortnight, which combined with the ongoing “excitement” left her very feeble. Her screaming fits and general exhaustion continued as before, all of which weakened her to the point where she was literally wasting away. On the morning of 15th January, Jane Dee died, never having recovered her senses.
Jane’s postmortem revealed her brain was “much atrophied” with “about 4oz of subarachnoid fluid draining away”. Some of her organs also showed signs compatible with emaciation, which would have been brought on by her slight constitution and progressive weakening over the last two months of her life.
Harriet, Jane’s only surviving child, passed away in Malvern in 1917 aged 81; she was survived by her husband and by her late brother’s four children, who by then had emigrated to Manitoba, in Canada. I have yet to find out whether Jane was buried near Burghill, or if she was interred in her native Colwall close to her husband and her two beloved sons. Her sister Kezia died in 1881, being survived by her two children.
Genealogists are naturally inquisitive. Let’s be honest: we are very nosy. We like detail, we love personal stories, we adore family gossip… but above all, we need facts.
As family historians, you have probably asked your parents and even your grandparents how they met (and if you haven’t: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?). Did they meet at a dance, or through shared friends in common… Are you young enough for your parents to have met online, even?
Whatever the circumstances, knowing how your immediate ancestors met can usually only be answered by asking the main story players themselves, or else someone who knew them well (i.e. your aunt, a close family friend or a cousin). More often than not, such unique (and fleeting) stories leave very little paper trace behind them, if any at all – which begs the question: how can you prove how your ancestors met?
While “chance encounters” were probably even more common before than they are today, there are some ways that can help us figure out how our forefathers met our foremothers (get it?). And proving it can sometimes be substantiated by documentary proof. If not, in the worst case scenario, you can always narrow down the possibilities and make a very educated guess.
If two of your ancestors lived in a small community, be it a small village, or a specific religious group within a larger social group, chances are they would have met either pretty young or else by going about what we might call “daily life”: attending church, going to the market, at a local assembly room, at school… But have you considered the possibility that your ancestors were next-door neighbours? Census returns, tithe maps and other records relating to property can sometimes offer useful clues in this sense. For instance, I have located an entry from the 1841 census which reflects two branches of my English family tree, the Allens and the Davis, and would you believe it that in 1876 their respective grandchildren ended up getting married? Coincidence? Actually, it’s far from a coincidence – it just looks like it in hindsight. To them, it would have been the most natural, casual, ordinary way for two single individuals to meet and decide to tie the knot.
But there are other types of relationships, the sort that you have to dig deeper in order to get a fuller picture. Last spring, at the height of the COVID pandemic, I was stuck at home and decided to delve into my Spanish ancestry. To my delight, I discovered that the man who acted as godfather at my female ancestor’s baptism in 1758 was actually the uncle of her future husband. In other words, my ancestor married her godfather’s nephew – they were therefore “spiritually” related, albeit not by blood. Church records were of course necessary to prove the relationship.
Cousin marriage is another obvious way by which your ancestors may have got together. Marriage between individuals who knew they were related to each other (be it as first, second or third cousins) was massively common until only a few generations ago. While the idea of “incest” (a term I would definitely hesitate to use in this context) makes us uncomfortable, we should accept the fact that such unions were far from being a rarity in the not-so-distant past.
And while on the topic of marriage between family members, have you ever come across an instance of an uncle marrying his niece? Apparently, property and money were often at the root of these unions between close relatives or close acquaintances (after all, if you marry your brother’s wife’s sister, you are not technically marrying a relative). You should therefore consider the possibility of arranged marriages, which again would have been much more common in Western society a few generations ago. Check marriage records and marital dispensations (especially if your ancestors were Catholic) to see if there was a degree of consanguinity and/or affinity between both spouses, and don’t forget to consult wills to see if anybody stood to gain by marrying a rich relative!
Sometimes, “accidents” may have led to two individuals coming together. Consider another of my female Spanish ancestors who was widowed twice; coincidentally – or not – her son from her first marriage would go on to marry her first husband’s niece – again, not a blood relative per se, but there was a pre-existing family connection that must have been instrumental, one way or another, in bringing the young couple together.
But “chance encounters” probably were as common a way of meeting your future partner in the past as they are today. My great-grandfather Jack emigrated from Italy in 1910 and settled in Manhattan, in an area intensely populated by Italian immigrants. The US Federal census shows us that one of the other inhabitants in the same building block where my great-grandfather ended up was a man called Giacomo Amerio; two years later, Giacomo’s sister arrived from Italy, he introduced her to his flatmate Jack and the rest, as they say, is history!
We cannot always hope to find documentary proof for such seemingly inconsequential moments in history, but considering the pivotal role that these events have played in our own family history, I think it’s time we revisit our family tree and try to figure out how exactly our ancestors met and how we, eventually, came to be!
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